I don’t believe Christians are called to be unduly negative, or to be paranoid or to jump to critical conclusions about society whilst longing for the ‘good old days’ which actually weren’t quite so good. But nor do I believe we are called to be naive and undiscerning.
There is much that is good in the world: creation itself, human love in all its manifestations, much of human culture and human research. Science, medicine and technology often makes our lives better than the ‘good old days.’ Good government, national and international, as well as NGOs and charities make the world a better place. The church is growing in many non-western nations and there are bright spots even in the west. There is some good Christian leadership and a lot of courageous, even sacrificial, Christian discipleship.
However, there are also some very serious trends and developments which Christians, who are amongst other things called to be prophetic, cannot ignore. [I recommend that this article be read with my article “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf].
Britain is an increasingly post-Christian country. We are seeing massive decline in Christian belief. We need to remember that turning away from the faith is a sign of the End Times. That doesn’t mean that the End is about to happen because other things have to take place too. But we need to keep watching for the signs and reminders Jesus taught about.
A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times in March 2013 found that:
· Only 30% believe in God (although 21% who don’t believe in God believe in a higher power) [The 2012 ComRes/Theos Cathedral Study figures were 36% and 14% respectively]
· 66% of Britons think religion is not important
· Only 29% think the UK is a religious country
· Only 7% only say they attend a place of worship weekly [The 2008 ComRes/Theos Darwin study said 10%]
· Only 30% believe Jesus was the Son of God
· Only 31% believe in the resurrection of Jesus (cp some 50% in the 1990s and 2000s)
· 69% think the Church of England is out of touch (including 53% of Christians).
Other research revealed that 5.3 million fewer British-born people called themselves Christians – a decline of 15% in a decade. The 2011 National Census 2011 found that between 2001 and 2011 the number of people calling themselves Christians fell by 4.1 million. Peter Brierley’s research has the number of people calling themselves Christians reducing by 6% i.e. a third of a million per year.
Little wonder, then, that we have crossed a Rubicon by approving gay marriage. (Some people think the decision could still be torpedoed, but this seems unlikely). I am not getting involved in the debate over homosexual sexual behaviour (having campaigned about it for some 15 years in the 1980s and 90s). My views are recorded in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. But this decision is a very serious error as I have pointed out in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=237.
It is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage because it is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Children need a father and a mother. Even though there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job that is not the ideal situation. Children need the input of both loving male and female role models. Research shows that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship. Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage. It re-defines marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. And such an emotional definition of marriage will lead to even more marital breakdown – when the positive feelings decline.
These considerations are bad enough but the worst thing is the breathtaking and ill-thought-out arrogance of our politicians in rejecting the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Marriage is ordained by God and David Cameron and the majority of MPs and Lords have taken it out of God’s hands and radically changed it. I wonder what they will say, especially Cameron, when they meet God, as they will one day have to answer to him for their behaviour (as we all will).
It is clear from recent history that such legislation tends to lead to new evils. Divorce law was changed because women were so oppressed but the long term effect is divorce on demand and massive breakdown of marriage. Abortion law was amended to prevent women having to go to dangerous back street abortionists. But the long term effect is abortion on demand with hundreds of thousands of unborn humans being killed. Homosexuality was merely legalised in 1967 but it has led on to the serious situation in which we are now.
Now marriage has been radically changed despite it being wrong, and unnecessary (as even some of the gay lobby have said) and it will lead not only to the damage outlined above but to calls for legitimization of multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, …. multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them?
I have already said the same-sex marriage decision will have very serious consequences including being a major cause of oppression – even eventually persecution – of Christians who oppose it (a good eschatological theme). Today I read the Independent newspaper which is very supportive of same-sex marriage. They cover a new Centre for Social Justice report:
“Some of the poorest parts of the country are becoming ‘men deserts’, the report found, because there are so few visible male role models for children …. One of the problems is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools …. For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom … This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development …. There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”
Yet the need of both a male and a female role model being important for children is one of the main reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage. What planet are people like the editor of the Independent living on?
Serious oppression of Christians
As if all that was not enough, there are other very serious results which will flow from this decision. It has long been clear to me that approval of gay sexual relationships will become a social ‘password’ without which individuals will be rejected, excluded and oppressed.
It may be that certain safeguards will be put in place, just as the Church of England has been legally exempted from taking same-sex weddings. But these will not last. We shall see legal action being taken against churches, clergy facing demands to celebrate same-sex weddings and restrictions on church activities. We shall see Christian teachers facing a crisis of conscience over endorsing gay marriage in the classroom (Labour is proposing an amendment calling for teachers to teach about gay marriage and same-sex relationships). Christians who cannot say they favour homosexual relationships will also be unable to foster children. Christians will be excluded from becoming registrars, etc.
I do not believe we should use the word ‘persecution’ of the current oppression of Christians in British society but this decision (and others) will ultimately lead us to where the word ‘ persecution’ will be appropriate. And persecution is a sign of the End Times. It is, of course, already happening in numerous countries.
The failure of the church
I hold the Church of England to be significantly to blame for this crisis. To quote Paul “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” And there has not been a clear call by the Church of England trumpet. Church leaders seek to have their cake and eat it. They say they disapprove of gay sex but always some say they approve. They use unclear language which confuses the uninitiated, i.e. the vast majority of the population. Take the events surrounding the decision in the House of Lords over same-sex marriage.
26 bishops sit in the House of Lords but only 14 turned up to vote on the issue and five of them abstained. The Bishop of Salisbury broke ranks with the House of Bishops and spoke strongly in favour of gay marriage. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has spoken against it, said in his Lords speech: “The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view – although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.”
He added: “And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place [the Commons]…. It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” He then made criticism of the bill before saying the church was “extremely hesitant about the Bill.” He ended by saying he couldn’t support it.
Hang on a minute: the House of Bishops is against same-sex marriage but are only “extremely hesitant” about it. They’re against same-sex marriage but only half of them turn up to vote, and five of them abstain. They’re against same sex marriage but one bishop who breaks ranks gives a “strong and welcome” contribution. Same sex marriage is wrong but “stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” Boy – am I confused and I was on General Synod for 15 years. Actually, I’m not confused. I’m used to this poor leadership. The bishops have failed the church and the church has failed the nation.
Little wonder the church is declining. We seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land with declining congregations, priests having to look after, say, ten parishes and 40% of the stipendiary clergy retiring in the next few years. Try as I have, I can’t find any plan as to how the Bishops are going to deal with this challenge. The C of E will see massive decline and retreat into increasing irrelevance, the way things are going. All of this relates to the Jesus’ words about the End Times “Many will turn away from the faith” and the church is contributing to this.
Then there are the bigger issues:
The Middle East situation
The Arab Spring has turned to winter. The Syrian civil war continues. Iraq is very corrupt and everywhere there are violent Islamists. The strife between Sunni and Shia takes many lives. Now Turkey seems to be facing a dangerous situation as is Egypt. In the midst of it all is Israel, the sixth most powerful military state in the world, and a nuclear power. Israel feels threatened at the best of times but now almost all around her it seems that Islamists are coming to power or regimes are unstable. Syria seems dangerously close to drawing Israel into conflict. Hezbollah, regarded by many as a terrorist group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian conflict and could obtain weapons which could seriously threaten Israel. Already Israel has attacked arms convoys in Syria to prevent the arms reaching Hezbollah and has threatened to attack future Russian attempts to provide weapons. An international attack on Israel is part of the End Times scenario and it is not difficult to imagine it, given the present and developing situation.
The rise of Islam
I am not anti-Muslim and I believe it is wrong to be so. Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people. I have had a lot to do with them, and reached out to them in reconciliation in Jerusalem. I have been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue. I also encourage prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.
However, we must be discerning and honest. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet. But the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is a false view. For example, the Islamic Jesus is not divine and did not die on the cross. This is a false christ. They expect this false christ to return and to further the cause of Islam around the world.
Islam is already a powerful and growing force in the world. It is also growing rapidly in the UK. In the same period that people calling themselves Christians declined by 15% the number of Muslims in England and Wales increased by 75% (including almost 600,000 Muslims moving here from overseas). Between 2001 and 2011 the Muslim population grew by 1.2 million.
Almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, whereas a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian. The implications of this for the future are clear.
I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources warn of this from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives. I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it. But we do have to be realistic and to face up to the fact that the religious future of Britain will be increasingly Islamic.
Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said of these statistics: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.” He added: “The ethnic transformation implicit in current trends would be a major, unlooked for, and irreversible change in British society, unprecedented for at least a millennium.”
Coleman also said that Christianity was declining with each generation: “Each large age group, as time progresses, receives less inculcation into Christianity than its predecessor ten years earlier.” But he added: “We have a Muslim faith where most studies suggest adherence to Islam is not only transmitted through the generations but appears to get stronger. Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the second generation Muslims in Britain are more Muslim than their parents.”
From the point of view of the Christian gospel that is a serious problem because Islam promotes a false christ and a false gospel and expects this false christ to return. This has to be significant in terms of the End Times.
Hints of ‘Big Brother’
I am well aware of the paranoia which is associated with the idea of World Government and the Antichrist, etc. Recent American statistics show that:
· 13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ!
· 4% of US voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power!
· 15% of voters say the US government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals!
· 5% believe the vapour trail seen in the sky behind planes is actually chemicals sprayed by the US government for sinister reasons!
This all brings talking about the dangers of world government into disrepute. Also international co-operation obviously benefits the world in many ways.
However, I repeat what I said above about decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as made for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, but which also tend to lead to new evils. We cannot turn the clock back and escape from the global village. It would be a profound mistake to opt out of the United Nations and many other forms of international co-operation as we face enormous problems: world poverty, global warming, terrorism, economic recession, etc. But we would be very foolish not to be aware of the dangers inherent in such co-operation.
Another statistic is that 28% of US voters believe a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.” These statistics were published at a time when the Bilderbergers were meeting in England, and they are the focus of conspiracy theories. We may react cynically to all this but I would ask two questions:
· Do we really think that there are no private power groups seeking to influence world affairs?
· What do we make of the New Testament predictions of “man of lawlessness”who“will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” only to be destroyed by the returning Christ?
I think it would be very naïve (and cynical) not to believe there are private power groups seeking to influence world affairs. I also believe that, whilst avoiding paranoia and simplistic conclusions, we should take note of moves towards world government, discerning the sinister from the beneficial.
I am writing this a day or two after the publication in the Guardian newspaper of a top secret document about the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme which allegedly has allowed officials to monitor the internet via Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook etc since 1995. This includesemail content, search history, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferencing, social networking, etc. The Guardian also alleged that GCHQ (the UK security agency in Cheltenham) has used the Prism programme to spy on thousands of Britons.
Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary (who is currently seeking to introduce her own “snooper’s charter”) “I am astonished by these revelations which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched. This seems to be the snooper’s charter by the back door.” I note in passing that there is a huge amount of surveillance – CCTV and the like – in Britain anyway.
Even if the organisations claim they have not done what is alleged many will be unconvinced because they are organisations which act in secrecy. In any case, it is clear that they have the ability to do what is alleged and this has disturbing prospects for the future.
Again, we have another example of the principle of decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, also tending to lead to new evils. The first motive for surveillance is to combat crime and terrorism, but it can turn into an unwelcome and dangerous invasion of the privacy of innocent individuals.
As good citizens Christians should be concerned about government surveillance because of the danger of it leading ultimately, in the long run, to a world dominated by “Big Brother” which relates to some of the predictions in the New Testament. Obviously, some surveillance is important to combat the threat of terrorism and other crime. Putting it rather negatively, such surveillance is the lesser of two evils and we have to accept that. However, surveillance must be controlled and must not cross the line into becoming Big Brother. That is not an easy line to draw. A former chief of GCHQ (the UK government surveillance centre) has written in the Guardian today giving six ethical principles on which surveillance should take place. He says it must be for the right motive, with sufficient cause, proportionate and with reasonable prospect of success. It must be a last resort and be governed by lawful authority. This is good.
However he writes that surveillance “involves computers searching through a mass of material, of course, and that might include your and my emails and data on our web traffic, but it is only the legally requested material that ever gets seen by a human being. These computers are not conscious beings: they will only select that which they are lawfully programmed to select. To describe this process as monitoring all our communications or ‘the surveillance state’ or a ‘snooper’s charter’ is wholly misleading and a perverse reading of the situation.” He concludes: “Let us respect the work of our intelligence agencies in keeping us safe, and be glad that in our democratic societies they are subject to the rule of law.”
The problem is that we live in a world of sinful human beings where “money, sex and power” have great influence. We live in a world of dishonest politicians, dishonest business leaders, dishonest bankers, dishonest media moguls, etc. So the reassurances of surveillance chiefs and their politician colleagues leave serious questions.
[For my detailed article on trends towards world government see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf pages 23-32]
The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain (and in Europe), the increasing number of laws which are inconsistent with traditional Christian morality, the increasing discrimination against Christians, the failure of the church to speak with a clear voice, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East and the increasing spread of Islam, including in Britain, and the trends towards intruding on the freedom of individuals all pose serious threats to society and also reflect biblical warnings of End Time trends.